A Bright Future for SC Life Sciences

A Bright Future for SC Life Sciences

Sam Konduros, President and CEO, SCBIO

by Sam Konduros, President & CEO, SCBIO 

Comprised of over 600 life sciences firms in 43 counties, with wages nearly double the state average and an annual economic impact that exceeds $12 billion, the South Carolina Life Sciences Industry has become a powerful force in the Palmetto State’s economy. It is the fastest growing segment of the state’s innovation economy and shows no signs of slowing down, even amid a global pandemic that has significantly increased public awareness of this vital sector.

Life Sciences’ six major segments include pharmaceuticals/biotech (from Nephron Pharmaceuticals to Thorne to Thermo Fisher Scientific), medical devices/medtech (from Abbott to Arthrex to AVX), Health IT/digital health (including Greenville’s ChartSpan), research-testing-diagnostics-labs (from Greenwood Genetics Center to Precision Genetics to Vikor Scientific), bioscience distribution (including Greenville-based SoftBox), and even Bio-Ag, with every sector well-represented throughout the Upstate and South Carolina.

What makes the industry even more compelling as a significant knowledge economy diversifier for SC is that it averages triple the R&D expenditure of all other industries, and is highly recession resistant due to being so intertwined with the larger healthcare industry. In fact, the approximately $8 trillion in annual global healthcare spending is supported by a roughly $1.5 trillion life sciences industry—with the United States responsible for almost half of the world’s innovations in this dynamic industry.

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To help the Palmetto State achieve its goal of becoming a significant player within life sciences, SCBIO was dramatically restructured and refocused three years ago—with economic development the new focal point for the state’s lead life sciences organization and public/private industry association. Providing high-impact support for existing industry, working with economic development organization partners to recruit leading-edge global life sciences companies here, and developing strategies to grow our own Palmetto State life science companies has had a seismic impact on the culture of the organization and its stakeholders—and has helped usher in a new era ripe with opportunities. Alignment of SCBIO with the SC Department of Commerce was a game-changer that helped enable the association to triple revenue in three years; develop a full-time multidisciplinary executive team; and cultivate an extraordinary board of directors comprised of industry, academia, healthcare, core service providers, and economic development partners.

As part of SCBIO’s agreement with the SC Department of Commerce, the organization was charged with creating the state’s first ever SC Life Sciences Strategic Plan—a plan now moving into its third iteration as South Carolina continues to refine strategies to build a nationally competitive ecosystem to sustainably support the industry in our state. Stakeholders and subject matter experts from across the state have contributed to the plan, which serves as a roadmap to the future for how the Palmetto State can become one of America’s most desired destinations for life sciences.

And despite the challenges faced by every industry in the face of the global pandemic, SC’s life science companies have literally been on the front lines in the battle with COVID, providing everything from COVID-19 PCR test kits to antibody tests to respiratory therapies to face shields, fueled by a wide variety of firms that stepped up—or pivoted—to meet vital needs created by the Coronavirus. As South Carolina works hard to safely reopen our economy while still challenged by a highly active virus, life sciences will be a major contributor to the state’s economic recovery—with unprecedented opportunities to onshore and repatriate drugs, medical devices, and all manner of PPE. These are some of the silver linings in the midst of this national public health crisis that create a foundation for optimism as life sciences emerges as one of the state’s strongest economic pillars for decades to come.

Community Health Centers Light the Way for Healthier Communities

Community Health Centers Light the Way for Healthier Communities

Regina M. Mitchell, MHA, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer, New Horizon Family Health Services, Inc.

by Regina M. Mitchell, MHA, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer, New Horizon Family Health Services, Inc.

Next week, New Horizon Family Health Services (NHFHS) will celebrate National Health Center Week (NHCW) to celebrate how Community Health Centers (CHCs) are lighting the way for healthier communities today and in the future.

City of Greenville Mayor Knox White, City of Greer Mayor Rick Danner, and City of Travelers Rest Mayor Brandy Amidon have proclaimed the week as National Health Center Week in their communities to recognize the work we do. We’ll also be holding virtual events throughout the week to highlight our services and programs and recognizing healthcare heroes on our team who shine a light in our communities. Visit our website for a list of NHCW activities.

CHCs, like NHFHS, have provided comprehensive primary and preventative healthcare to vulnerable populations for more than 50 years. Nationally, CHCs produce $26 billion in annual health system savings, reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and visits to the ER, and serve one in five Medicaid beneficiaries at a 24% lower cost compared to other providers.

NHFHS was established in 1992 with a small team of health professionals providing services to about 2,500 patients. Today, we employ a staff of 250 and more than 28,000 individuals rely on our organization for healthcare access each year regardless of their insurance status. We operate medical offices in Greenville, Greer, and Travelers Rest; a dental office in Greenville; two mobile medical units; and a mobile dental unit. Over 40% of our patients are uninsured. Many struggle with social, economic, or environmental factors that create barriers to healthcare access.

NHFHS’ Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) Program provides over 5,000 primary medical, dental, and behavioral health visits annually for individuals experiencing homelessness in 13 Upstate counties. Patients can receive services from HCH’s 35-foot mobile medical unit or at any NHFHS office. In 2019, NHFHS partnered with Miracle Hill Ministries to launch the first in-shelter Medical Respite Care Program in the state to provide individuals experiencing homelessness a safe place to recover after hospital discharge.

NHFHS’ Ryan White Program provides services including primary and HIV specialty medical care, medical case management, prescription assistance, and behavioral health counseling to over 1,200 individuals living with HIV/AIDS in 10 Upstate counties each year.

Our organization may have grown, but our mission remains the same—to provide quality, affordable, compassionate, patient-centered healthcare to improve the health of the communities we serve.

Using a community-oriented integrated care model, patients can access primary medical care, dental care, behavioral health services; manage chronic conditions; and purchase prescription medications at lower costs—all in one location. Our Care Management Team of community health workers assists patients in overcoming non-medical issues adversely affecting their health such as lack of health insurance, transportation challenges, inadequate housing, and food insecurity. By offering a more cost-effective way to provide care to our community, NHFHS produces an estimated $29 million in annual savings to our local healthcare delivery system.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our role is even more critical to the health of our communities as newly unemployed and uninsured persons turn to CHCs to access affordable, quality care. To continue responding to the needs of our communities, we must assure that health centers have the financial resources to sustain our efforts. You can support the work we do by signing up as a Health Center Advocate. Together, we can light the way for healthier communities.

Q and A with Mike Fox of Lockheed Martin

Q and A with Mike Fox of Lockheed Martin

Mike Fox, Site Director and General Manager, Greenville Operations at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

In April of 2019, Lockheed Martin Greenville announced the launch of a new F-16 production line, and a ceremony marking the construction of the first F-16 Block 70 aircraft was held in December. Just a few months later, COVID-19 hit, impacting industries in different ways, so we wanted to hear what was happening now at the company. Mike Fox, site director and general manager of the Greenville Operations of Lockheed Martin, answered some of our questions.

What is the current status of the F-16 production?

F-16 production began in Greenville in November 2019, and we currently have five jets in work, at various stages in the manufacturing process. Bahrain was first to select the F-16 Block 70 and we have added several partners since, with additional opportunities on the horizon.

What, if any, impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on production?

We have seen some supplier impacts as a result of COVID-19; however, we are actively working with our suppliers and customers to reduce any impacts and deliver jets that meet customer schedule requirements. We also continue to partner with the DoD to strengthen our supply chain. Lockheed Martin has received more than $1.3 billion in accelerated progress payments from the Pentagon and have flowed all of it to suppliers to ensure we continue to maintain operations and support jobs.

What adjustments have you made to account for social distancing and to maintain the safety of your production team?

We have implemented a flexible teleworking policy for employees who can continue the essential work required to meet our commitments to the U.S. Government and our key allies around the globe from home. We have established minimum staffing and social distancing policies consistent with current federal guidance for our employees who continue to support national security in our plant.

Our Facilities team has increased cleaning schedules across the site, with a high concentration on common areas like lobbies, restrooms, break rooms, and elevators.

We also regularly share exposure-prevention protocols to reinforce healthy behaviors.

With Lockheed Martin having multiple production locations, have most of your adjustments to account for the pandemic been done company-wide or have they been handled at a facility level based on the needs at that location?

The health and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority. We have implemented company-wide guidance and adjustments, such as business travel restrictions, visitor requirements, cleaning procedures, etc., as well as site-specific protocols to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Do you anticipate some permanent changes to your safety protocols due to the pandemic?

The safety protocols we are using have evolved as the CDC has adjusted its guidance based on a growing understanding of the COVID-19 virus. We will continue to use guidance from the CDC and other best practices to provide a safe environment for our employees.

Have there been other impacts holistically to Lockheed Martin as a result of the pandemic and economic slowdown?

Overall, we learned how agile and adaptable our workforce can be to unforeseen situations. As part of the Defense Industrial Base, our operation is considered an essential business, and our employees remain focused on our mission to support our customers while adjusting to the precautionary measures we have instituted.

Local COVID-19 Support

In South Carolina, we are proud to support our community partners with the following contributions:

Click here to see community support at the corporate level across the country.

The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale—Now Really Online

The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale—Now Really Online

John Jaraczewski, Executive Director of the Greenville Literacy Association

by John Jaraczewski, Executive Director, Greenville Literacy Association, with Sharon Purvis

For book lovers across the Upstate and beyond, the Greenville Literacy Association’s annual used book sale—the Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale—yields a treasure trove of bargains, from recent hardcover releases for $8 down to mass market paperbacks that are two for $1. For teachers and homeschooling families, it’s a great way to stock up on books for the classroom. It’s generally one of the highlights of my summer, with my sister driving down from Asheville to go with me—our little joke is that we get free books in exchange for a donation to the Greenville Literacy Association. But in addition to the bargains, the other thing you can count on at the sale is a huge crowd of people—you’re shoulder to shoulder with strangers, and that’s just not safe this year.

When I heard that the sale was happening virtually this year (starting August 1, but you can purchase a ticket to the preview party on July 31st), I had to find out how that would work, and John Jaraczewski, executive director of the Greenville Literacy Association, answered my questions.

 Q: It seems like a huge undertaking to turn your really big book sale into an online sale. How early in the pandemic did you make the decision to make the change?

We truly never stop working on the annual sale. So, of course, we were discussing the potential of a sale as early as May. We wanted to remain open to all possibilities from a traditional sale all the way to a virtual event. Our development director, Eleanor Vaughn, initiated a pilot program offering collections of books through Instagram. We discovered a very dedicated following as some of the collections were purchased in a matter of minutes!  That is where the idea of offering collections of books originated. This gave us confidence that we could offer an online experience that was very different than our traditional sale but equally engaging.  We made the decision to move entirely online in June. At that point, there was no looking back. We needed to plan first and then act. It has been a whirlwind of activity with our steadfast volunteers rallying to the cause and new volunteers joining in the effort. Nearly every inch of our suite in McAlister Square is being used to stage the collections and to fulfill the orders. It is a sight to behold.  

Q: As a regular patron of your sale, I know that you’re very good at sorting the books into categories, so that part was already done. But can you talk a little about the process of putting all of those books online? For example, did you use your same group of volunteers, or did you have to recruit some new ones with different skills?

The amount of knowledge and insight our volunteer book room leaders have regarding our inventory would astound you. This was earned over the years through a meticulous collection, cleaning, and sorting process that is underway all year long. But, just as we all have learned, 2020 is a time to stay calm and plan to adjust. The online sale was built on our current knowledge with a new set of ideas and expertise. We couldn’t have done one without the other. We engaged any volunteers who were comfortable working online in our mobile app. Other volunteers wanted to remain more hands-on, sorting and creating collections. It has been an interesting way to bring new volunteers into the book sale effort.

 Q: How different/similar will this experience be for buyers to their accustomed online book-buying experience, other than that the books are preselected into collections? Are the collections searchable? Is there a time limit once a book is in your basket?

We have been very thoughtful throughout this endeavor. It is a matter of making things as easy as possible for our patrons within limited time and other resources. More than an online store, we tried to translate the book sale experience to the web. So it is not simply search-and-click for a single author or title. For example, our guests will be able to purchase collections of books rather than single titles. Posting collections was one sure way to offer the greatest variety and amount of books in the time we had to prepare. In the spirit of the book sale, we also think it adds to the discovery of new books. The patrons are invited to browse and consider new possibilities in books. We hope our current and new patrons enjoy this version of the Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap [Really Online] Book Sale.

Regarding purchases, it is very much like our traditional sale—the decisive shopper will win the day. All collections of books are available to all patrons until they are purchased—regardless if a collection is in another cart. So, if you like a collection you should make the purchase before it is snatched up!

Q: I imagine (or I hope!) that people will be pretty understanding if there are unanticipated kinks in the process, but what kinds of scenarios have you walked through to anticipate any issues?

There is a level of expectation associated with our annual sale. This has been honed over the past 19 years. But this year is all new. We are learning and growing every day—which is what the GLA is all about. So, we ask our patrons to remember that at the end of the day, this is a charity event. We offer the sale online as means to support our mission in literacy. Your patience is greatly appreciated as we work through any kinks along the way.

What are we thinking about today? Of course, someone will want to buy a single book in a collection. That simply is not possible this year. Each book was priced as it would be in the traditional sale, but offered in a collection. Or, during pick up we might have a line of cars waiting for book pick up. Please be willing to wait a bit. Perhaps, you have made a very large order? Wonderful! However, we will ask you to arrange a specific pick-up time that works for both parties. All these and more might be reasons for you to be sensitive that we are planning and working as hard as we can to bring the sale to our community. Please consider yourself a partner in sharing literacy and advancing in our mission.

Q: From a logistics perspective, going from just having tables of books in their categories alphabetized by author to having collections for people to choose, what kind of warehouse set-up do you have for the picking of those orders? And how long do you anticipate that a customer’s order will take to fill?

Much like the annual in-person sale, our books are laid out on tables as “inventory.” Instead of out in the McAlister Square public space, however, it’s all happening within our learning center suite.

Once you’ve purchased your books online, you MUST wait one full business day before coming to pick them up (for example, if you purchase on a Saturday, you’d pick up Tuesday. If you purchase on a Tuesday, you’d pick up on Thursday). Our volunteers will need that in-between day to fulfill and pack your order.

The final step of the book-buying process is driving to the back of McAlister Square. Our smiling volunteers (smiling behind their masks) will use your information to locate and deliver your order to your car.

Q: Once things are back to normal again and we’re able to jostle shoulder to shoulder with strangers while choosing our own books, do you think you’ll still maintain some element of the online sale for people who might not be able to make it in person that weekend?

If you asked the team this very minute, as we transform an entire operation to online, the answer would be a resounding NO! Just kidding. Many people may not realize that GLA posts books for sale on Amazon year-round. It is a much smaller collection of books that we can sell competitively on the open market. It has been in place for a number of years. It, too, is run completely by amazing volunteers and is a source of income to support our mission.

But this year’s activities seem to be reaching a new audience via social media. It might be the case that we continue our relationship with our online shoppers moving forward. But let’s face it, the Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale is something very special. Over the years, the event has marked the end of summer and beginning of the school year for so many community members. Book lovers bring their young readers each year and the cycle continues. In that spirit, we are hopeful that we will have the biggest sale ever in 2021 as we celebrate the event’s 20th anniversary!

Sneak Pique! A Conversation with Pique Planning Committee Chair Jessica Miserendino

Sneak Pique! A Conversation with Pique Planning Committee Chair Jessica Miserendino

After postponing the 2020 Pique young professionals event twice, we at Ten at the Top have made the decision to cancel this year’s event. It was becoming clear that an in-person event would not be possible, and trying to reproduce the experience of Pique in a virtual format seemed unfair to attendees who purchased tickets for an event that is geared around networking and includes an opportunity to sit face-to-face with executives from a variety of sectors. But we still wanted to have something in 2020 for young professionals, so we’ll be hosting a series of “Sneak Pique” virtual events in the months leading up to an in-person event in 2021.

Jessica Miserendino, Import Manager at AFL, Ten at the Top board member, and chair of the Pique planning committee

Jessica Miserendino, Import Manager at AFL, Ten at the Top board member, and chair of the Pique planning committee, answered some questions about Sneak Pique, while keeping some of the “sneak” parts under wraps.

Q: Instead of doing a virtual event to replace the in-person event, you’ve decided to do a series of virtual “Sneak Pique” events. Can you explain what that means?

The Sneak Pique will be a series leading up to our in person event “Pique” that is planned for Spring 2021. In our current pandemic state, where contact is limited, the Sneak Pique series is designed to allow young professionals to continue to interact with each other in a safe, socially distanced environment. There will be a variety of topics and activities covered to help young professionals in their personal and career development. Many of us are missing the social interaction of life before COVID, so this is a great opportunity to collaborate with other Upstate YPs.

Q: Are you planning to charge anything for the virtual events?

These events will be held free of charge! We understand that many are struggling financially during this pandemic and want to provide the opportunity for everyone to participate in Sneak Pique.

Q: Since Pique is largely a networking event, how will you incorporate networking into the Sneak Pique virtual events?

Luckily, many of the virtual meeting platforms now allow you to easily facilitate networking from a distance. We plan to utilize the breakout rooms feature to host round table sessions and to allow for smaller groups to connect. There will also be some fun ice breaker events where participants will answer trivia questions or play Bingo games.

Q: The pandemic has made us all much better acquainted with virtual events than we were before, and they do have some advantages. Have you thought about continuing with periodic virtual events between the big annual meeting once things get back to normal?

Virtual events have certainly come a long way from the traditional pre-pandemic webinars and has forced us all to get creative with how to connect and network from a distance. It’s amazing that we have the technology now to continue to interact with colleagues, friends, and family members while sitting in the comfort of our homes (although our Zoom backgrounds may show us sitting on an island somewhere). One major advantage of the virtual Sneak Pique is that there is a greater opportunity to engage with those young professionals that live in outlying counties. We are looking forward to seeing some new faces and reaching a larger audience through the virtual meetings.

Q: Who can attend the Sneak Pique events? Do you need to be a member of a YP group?

We welcome anyone between the ages of 23 and 40 to join in Sneak Pique! You do not need to be a member of a young professional group to participate and we encourage you to spread the word to fellow YP coworkers and friends.

Possible Employer Liability for an Employee’s Contraction of COVID-19

Possible Employer Liability for an Employee’s Contraction of COVID-19

Michael Nail, Associate—Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Data suggests the potential for a wave of employment litigation springing from the pandemic. At this early stage, it is difficult to fully anticipate all the types of claims that may be brought by employees and how those claims will be handled by courts or administrative agencies. Through June 2020, a review of national court filings reveals numerous employment lawsuits based on COVID-19–related claims.

A survey of South Carolina court filings also reveals a variety of employment-related lawsuits based on COVID-19–related claims that fall into the broad categories of FMLA/FFCRA interference/retaliation, wage and hour violations, retaliation/wrongful discharge, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions.

Thus far, the most common claims relate to safety in the workplace and retaliation. Many of the related claims overlap and allege complaints about reports of unsafe workplaces and adverse action resulting therefrom.

Given that the foregoing summary derives from filings during a timeframe in which most states, including South Carolina, had some version of a “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” order, and many employers were either not operating or only partially operating, it is likely that these types of lawsuits will increase dramatically in the coming months.

Can Employers Utilize Any Liability Shields?

Policymakers have been pushing for immunity legislation at the federal level, but implementation remains uncertain.

No such legislation has been implemented in South Carolina, but legislation has been proposed. On June 24, 2020, the “South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act” (“Safe Harbor Act”) was introduced in the House of Representatives (H. 5527).

The Safe Harbor Act would provide liability protections for a broad class of businesses and government entities (acting in their capacities as employers and otherwise) (“Covered Entity”) that reasonably adhere to “Public Health Guidance” (as defined in the Safe Harbor Act) in effect at the time of the alleged conduct giving rise to a “Coronavirus Claim.” The Safe Harbor Act defines “Coronavirus Claim” as any cause of action that is related to any actual, alleged, or feared exposure to or contraction of Coronavirus from:

  • the premises of a Covered Entity;
  • the operations, products, or services provided on or off premises of a Covered Entity;
  • the acts or omissions of a Covered Individual or Covered Entity, to include the delay or withholding of medical care; and
  • efforts to prevent or delay the spread of the Coronavirus, to include making precautionary equipment or supplies such as personal protective equipment.

The safe harbor would not apply if a claimant were to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the Covered Entity or Covered Individual caused the injury or damage (1) through knowingly reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct; or (2) by failing to make any attempt to adhere to public health guidance. Observers expect the General Assembly to revisit the proposed law in mid-September.

Other states already have implemented temporary liability protections for employers, and legislation is pending in others. While these laws vary from state to state, the common theme is to protect employers from tort liability if they comply with applicable safety guidance.

Does the Workers’ Compensation Bar Apply?

Some states have enacted special COVID-19 workers’ compensation legislation or are considering COVID-19 amendments to their workers’ compensation laws. The new laws in many states would create a presumption that employees who contracted COVID-19 did so at work. These changes essentially shift the burden of liability from businesses to the state or create a hybrid solution.

South Carolina has similar legislation pending (HB 5482) in response to the pandemic that would create a workers’ compensation presumption. Specifically, South Carolina’s law would create an easier path for first responders, health care providers and correctional officers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.

Should the new law become enacted in its current form, it would almost certainly ensure that a tort claim asserted by a covered employee for exposure to COVID-19 at work would be barred by the workers’ compensation exclusivity doctrine, absent an exception to the bar, such as a deliberate intent to harm.